The Parent trap: better living through dentistry

My daughter’s dentist has three vehicles parked in his examining room. True, there is a wall of clear Plexiglas that separates the brightly colored ambulances from the rows of examining chairs, which all seem to be inhabited with young, cheerful technicians. I understand that the proprietor of this pediatric dental factory in Bustleton regularly takes one of the ambulances to local schools, promoting dental care.

Oh, and did I mention that they have neon? Bright neon signs adorn the entire room, sometimes advertising food products that, if eaten too much, could have an adverse effect on your teeth.

Before going any further, I want to reassure the dental community that this is not an anti-dentist story. Far from it – if my childhood dentist had anything like this place, I probably wouldn’t have avoided making an appointment for, oh, 15 years. Back then, the children went to the same dentist as their parents. Ours was an elderly gentleman with an office down the street from Our Lady of Calvary Church. He was a competent dentist – he fixed all four of my cavities – but he did not believe in any anesthesia or Novocain. My most vivid memory of his office was waiting for my brother to get finished in the chair. As his molars were being drilled, his hands tightly gripped the chair rails and his legs lifted to attention. Before he could scream, I believe that I heard the doctor reply, “Oh, it’s not that bad.” From personal experience I can tell you that yes, it was. I still cringe when I drive past his now-vacant office on Knights Road.

But things are, thankfully, different now. I go to my own office of smiling technicians, dentists and billing clerks (they REALLY like me). My kids could probably go there, as well. But why go there when there is an office with CARS in the room?

I wish that I could tell you that any of these things helped with my daughter’s nervousness over the prospect of having a cavity filled. But she can’t help getting that knot in her stomach – it’s a family trait. She is, like me, a worrier.

When a holiday or family event lies on the horizon, our little girl constantly talks about it, as if the day is going to disappear if it is not consistently discussed. And so for six weeks, we heard nothing but questions about the dentist and cavity removal. We did what every parent would do – we reassured her that it would be a good experience.

She didn’t buy it. So as we were walking to the examining chair and a chorus of smiling faces greeted us as we passed, her head sagged from her shoulders. Even the appearance of an equally cheerful teenaged dentist didn’t help. Doogie Howser, DDS said that it wouldn’t hurt and it would take 10 minutes. Incredibly, it was not a lie.

Sadly, all of the funny ambulances and neon signs could stop my little worry-wart from moaning about the experience for the next two days. Why couldn’t she have picked up some of my nicer qualities, like… well, when I think of one, I’ll let you know. By the way, there is also a Good Humor truck parked next to the ambulances. Seems to me that the travelling dentist could just as easily get a white hat to go along with a white dental smock, and make the kids just as happy.

The Parent Trap is a weekly column by Patrick P. McNally that will appear on every Tuesday. See others here. Read other NEast Philly columns here.

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